Book Review: That Thing We Call a Heart

Title: That Thing We Call a Heart
Author: Sheba Karim
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 288 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: In bookstores now

Summary: Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.

Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.

With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.

Featuring complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes and set against a backdrop of Radiohead’s music and the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry, THAT THING WE CALL A HEART is a honest, moving story of a young woman’s explorations of first love, sexuality, desire, self-worth, her relationship with her parents, the value of friendship, and what it means to be true.

Review: After hearing so many great things about Karim’s new novel I was really looking forward to it. It was #ownvoices and had numerous Muslim characters in a contemporary romance, which is sorely needed in the world of YA literature. Unfortunately, I came away with a “meh” kind of feeling with this book. It took me a long while to get into it and connect with the main character Shabnam Qureshi. There was something about her that I just didn’t like. Some of her comments really rubbed me the wrong way, specifically about her weight, which I felt could be triggering to folks. Additionally, she was a little too crazy over Jaime, which is what I just realized I didn’t like about her. When I was in high school, boy-crazy girls drove me batty and that is why I didn’t connect with Shabnam. She is a character of contradictions, however, because even though she is very selfish, she does work to understand her father and help him to become a more active participant in their relationship and the relationship with her mother. The father-daughter moments in the novel were truly sweet and moving.

I feel like the “romance” of the novel was less about Jaime and Shabnam and more about the relationship between Shabnam and Farah. At the beginning of the novel the two are estranged from each other with Shabnam missing her best friend terribly. And I can see why as Farah seems to be Shabnam’s total opposite. Where Shabnam is unsure of herself, Farah is confidence personified. Where Shabnam hesitates to speak her mind, Farah doesn’t hold back. Their home lives are opposites as well as Shabnam is an only child whose parents are in a somewhat happy marriage where as Farah is the oldest of four (If I remember correctly) and her parents are constantly at odds. Even though the novel begins with Shabnam and Farah apart from each other, we are given flashbacks of how their friendship developed. These were two girls who connected over not fitting in, even though they were so different, and ended up dependent upon each other. And that desire for her best friend is why Shabnam chose to re-connected with Farah; she wanted to share her happiness about Jamie. I felt Shabnam was quite selfish for only going to her friend then, but ultimately the girls have a heart to heart and get to the bottom of why their friendship fell apart. It was a moving moment and one that I loved because after Shabnam’s time at the pie shack is over, there are an number of pages left to the book and most focus on Shabnam and Farah rekindling their friendship. Shabnam’s character development is due to her coming to accept Farah for who she is now and that even though her best friend is wearing a hajib, she is still the same complex being before she decided to wear the hajib. Shabnam learns to love her friend for who she is and comes to truly appreciate her relationship with Farah.

The touching relationships Shabnam had with her father and Farah, however, were not enough to make me fall in love with this book. I felt that Jaime was extremely two dimensional, almost a stereotype of the carefree white boy who visits and works with his aunt during the summer. I truly did not see what Shabnam saw that made her fall head over heels in love with him. I didn’t feel any heat or passion that I should expect from a contemporary romance. Jaime and Shabnam’s romance was just kind of blah. There was no rooting for their HEA; in fact, I was waiting for them to break up because that meant that Jaime would be off the page. Clearly, the opposite reaction a romance novel is aiming for. Though, if the point of the romance was the friendship between Shabnam and Farah, then mission accomplished.

 

Share

YA Lit List: Queer PoC Protagonists

It’s that time of year again, when I gather up all the precious Queer PoC YA books around like a magpie hungry for the shiny gleam of representation. Here are 8 books and 1 comic that I’ve either read or re-read in the last half year, or plan to read that star queer PoC characters:
 
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova | Review
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee | Review
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore | Review

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe*by Benjamin Alire Sáenz | Review

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman | Review
The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie | Review
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde | Review
Noteworthy by Riley Redgate | Goodreads
The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One** by Michael Dante DiMartino, Irene Koh (Illustrations) | Goodreads
*Re-read in anticipation of book 2, There Will Be Other Summers (!!).
**The LoK comics, Turf Wars, isn’t out yet, but will be as of June 22nd, 2017. Super excited (yay Korrasami)!
Share

New Releases

This is a release week I’ve been eagerly awaiting. Want and Saints and Misfits have been on my To Be Read list for ages it seems. As always, if you know of any titles we’ve missed, please let us know. Thank you!

Want by Cindy Pon
Simon Pulse

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart?

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tight knit Muslim community think of her then?

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder
Philomel Books

It’s 1999 in Bolivia and Francisco’s life consists of school, soccer, and trying to find space for himself in his family’s cramped yet boisterous home. But when his father is arrested on false charges and sent to prison by a corrupt system that targets the uneducated, the poor, and the indigenous majority, Francisco’s mother abandons hope and her family. Francisco and his sister are left with no choice: They must move into the prison with their father. There, they find a world unlike anything they’ve ever known, where everything—a door, a mattress, protection from other inmates—has its price.

Prison life is dirty, dire, and dehumanizing. With their lives upended, Francisco faces an impossible decision: Break up the family and take his sister to their grandparents in the Andean highlands, fleeing the city and the future that was just within his grasp, or remain together in the increasingly dangerous prison. Pulled between two equally undesirable options, Francisco must confront everything he once believed about the world around him and his place within it.

In this heart-wrenching novel inspired by real events, Melanie Crowder sheds light on a little-known era of modern South American history—where injustice still darkens the minds and hearts of people alike—and proves that hope can be found, even in the most desperate places. — Cover images and summaries via Goodreads

Share

Review & Giveaway: The Long Run

Title: The Long Run

Author: Joseph Bruchac

Genres: Contemporary

Pages: 114 pages

Publisher: 7th Generation

Review Copy: Book received from publisher

Availability: Available now

Summary: “You are useless, kid. Useless. Why do I have to take care of you? You just hold me back. Useless.”

Travis put his hand on his stomach. He felt the bruise from his father’s blow, but what his father had said hurt more.

Useless.

I’m not useless. I can run. That’s one thing I can do.

“I’m tired of being afraid,” Travis said. He said it softly. He said it to himself.

I can’t stay here, Travis thought. The thought surprised him. But how can I leave my father? Then another thought hit him. It hit him harder than his father’s drunken fists. I have to leave. I have to run. Not tomorrow. Now!

Follow Travis Hawk on a cross-country trek as he escapes a world of brutality and uncertainty and puts his trust, and even his very life, in the hands of total strangers. Travis’s story is one of struggle, survival, risk and resilience, navigating a solo journey of hundreds of miles to seek a safe haven far from the demons of his past.

Review: Before I talk about The Long Run, I want to mention what the 7th Generation PathFinder novels are. The PathFinder novels are all written by Native authors, feature Native teens, and are contemporary or historical fiction. Additionally, the PathFinder novels are designed to engage teens with low reading levels (the books are all written at a 2.5 to 4.5 reading level) who want fast-paced plots and culturally accurate stories. You can find the entire PathFinder catalog here.

The Long Run is a straightforward adventure story, focused on Travis Hawk as he makes the fateful decision to leave his father and the Seattle shelter they live in and travel to his grandparents in Maine. It is easy to empathize with Travis and his sudden decision to run away before his father can wake up. His journey is a hard one (anti-Native racism, lack of money, harrowing encounters), but it is also filled with many uplifting moments and good people. From the man on the bus who shares his food with Travis to the people who pay him for odd jobs so he can continue with his journey, there is a wealth of kindness in this story, too.

As Travis crosses the country, the reader learns more about him and his past while also learning about the people who have stepped in to help him. He meets a wide cross-section of humanity, and the people he spends time with all have their own stories to explore. In fact, I wished the novel were a little longer so Travis could meet more people and so we could learn more about him. The episodic nature of the book generally works well, though it feels a little choppy on occasion.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you’re a teacher looking to diversify a middle or high school classroom library. The Long Run would be a great book to pass on to any teens who like adventure stories and also have lower reading levels.

Giveaway

This giveaway is open to U.S. teachers only. Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter. One copy of The Long Run is available. The giveaway ends on June 16, 2017.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Share

Review: The Radius of Us

Title: The Radius of Us
Author: Marie Marquardt
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Pages: 295
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Availability: On shelves now
Review copy: Library

Summary: Ninety seconds can change a life — not just daily routine, but who you are as a person. Gretchen Asher knows this, because that’s how long a stranger held her body to the ground. When a car sped toward them and Gretchen’s attacker told her to run, she recognized a surprising terror in his eyes. And now she doesn’t even recognize herself.

Ninety seconds can change a life — not just the place you live, but the person others think you are. Phoenix Flores-Flores knows this, because months after setting off toward the U.S. / Mexico border in search of safety for his brother, he finally walked out of detention. But Phoenix didn’t just trade a perilous barrio in El Salvador for a leafy suburb in Atlanta. He became that person — the one his new neighbors crossed the street to avoid.

Ninety seconds can change a life — so how will the ninety seconds of Gretchen and Phoenix’s first encounter change theirs?

Told in alternating first person points of view, The Radius of Us is a story of love, sacrifice, and the journey from victim to survivor. It offers an intimate glimpse into the causes and devastating impact of Latino gang violence, both in the U.S. and in Central America, and explores the risks that victims take when they try to start over. Most importantly, Marie Marquardt’s The Radius of Us shows how people struggling to overcome trauma can find healing in love.

Review: The Radius of Us is a love story. It is also a story of how relationships and connection can bring healing. A painful and frightening attack has changed Gretchen and she doesn’t believe she will ever be the same again. Phoenix has been through even more trauma than Gretchen, and his life is in limbo. The two of them manage to move forward in spite of their fears and concerns though.

What I liked about the book was the way the characters were dealing with trauma in different ways. Gretchen’s family has access to a wide variety of resources. One of the most powerful moments in her healing though is when Phoenix doesn’t try to tell her to move past it, but asks her what her panic attacks are like. In that moment, he is giving her permission to be in that space. He’s not pointing out how she should be able to think her way through this or just get past it. He listens and acknowledges where she is in her journey. Phoenix also has a little brother who is dealing with his own trauma. Art is one way he is finding healing and expressing himself though he is bottling up many of his feelings. An aspect of the emotional piece that didn’t sit as well with me was how often Gretchen described herself as crazy and certifiable. It’s not really countered either.

Phoenix’s own journey, both physically and mentally, has been a rough one. There are many things about El Salvador that he loves, but he and his family were in extreme danger. Their trip through Mexico was also incredibly traumatic. Readers get a picture of how complicated and dangerous such a trip can be and how immigration is not a simple issue. On a side note, it was also interesting to hear about the vacationing volunteers who would go to El Salvador to help, but didn’t know how to do things.

This is a book that celebrates and honors human connection and the resiliency of people.

Recommendation: Get it soon especially if you enjoy contemporary romances. This is a beautiful story of love and hope.

Share

Review: The Edge of the Abyss

the edge of the abyss Title:  The Edge of the Abyss (The Abyss Surrounds Us #2)
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 281
Publisher: Flux
Availability: Out now!

Summary: Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to the ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Cas dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.

But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers that Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and ruining the ocean ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect? Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: The Edge of the Abyss is the sequel to The Abyss Surrounds Us, which centers on Cassandra Leung, a young Reckoner trainer who fights for survival on a pirate ship, all while training up a giant sea beast to terrorize the oceans. Yes, the book really is as epic as it sounds. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend reading the first book in the series. It’s incredible, thrilling, and sets the scene for its sequel perfectly.

I’ve been keeping track of The Edge of the Abyss ever since I read the first book in the series, which ends on something of a cliffhanger, especially when it comes to the romance. Cassandra, now a pirate on Santa Elena’s pirate ship, must find a way to right the wrongs she has helped set in motion, while also grappling with her conflicting feelings for the ruthless pirate girl Swift. Their relationship certainly had a rocky (and ethically murky) beginning, but in this book, they’re finally on level ground, and it was exciting to see where the two would go.

If you can’t tell, I read the book just as much for the romance as for the epic sea battles and fearsome beasts. Of course, the epic sea battles and beasts did not disappoint. (I will never get over how cute it is that Cassandra’s pirate Reckoner beast is named Bao – reminds me of how my friends named their rabbit Mantou.) In the background is the constant thread of ambition and manipulation – the way Santa Elena controls and manipulates everyone on the ship, shaping their futures, and the way Cassandra deals with those around her. The book manages to weave all these elements together perfectly.

I loved The Abyss Surrounds Us and its sequel lived up to, and exceeded the first. If you want to read about queer pirates and epic sea monsters (and really, who doesn’t?), these two books are must-reads. Put them on your to-read list!

Recommendation: Get it soon!

Share